Fashion dilemma; the thin line between inspiration and abuse

Fashion dilemma; the thin line between inspiration and abuse

Normally, during this time of the year, fabric and print buyers travel to Paris to visit  fabric fair called ‘Premiere Vision’. This time, for the second time this event is all digital. The fair is well known for its Trendfora where fabric manufacturers, print designers and styling agencies inform buyers in an early development stage on trends in colors, fabrics and print patterns. Years ago those trends were very directive and mega trends were pushed through the pipelines of brands, retailers and department stores. If English tea roses were a trend you would find them everywhere at any price. From the years 0 onwards there are many trend directions that live next to each other answering the consumer’s need for a more individualistic choice in lifestyle products.

Today, when I scrolled the trends in prints on the PV trendforum it struck me that one old habit in fashion is still very much alive; we still appropriate style, patterns and graphic elements from different cultural minorities, copy them and turn them into hard cash. Things become really questionable when these artwork elements come from disenfranchised groups who don’t get any kind of compensation for the prints, symbols and art which have been used. 

In these days in which movements like Black Lives Matter get global sympathy things can get very nasty rapidly for Brands that miss the thin line between inspiration and appropriation; 

Last year Marni promoted their SS20 accessories campaign with a photoshoot which was widely seen as racist, colonial and stereotyped. For the sake of photography stylists had brought together all sorts of native accessories and metal foot chains (!) which were not Marni. The campaign caused big stir, very much helped by the likes of Diet Prada (independent fashion watchdog)with the result that Marni removed the campaign from online and instagram.. Brand damage done.. 

Another example of Brand damage we saw when Isabel Marant got accused (for the 2nd time) of the exploitation of Mexican Purepecha people from Michoacan by privatizing historical and cultural elements without any sort of recognition. The Mexican minister of Culture Alejandra Frausto wrote a letter and press release to Isabel Marant asking Marant to explain why she did what she did. The attention worldwide for the Mexican statement raised awareness not only in the fashion industry, but certainly also amongst critical consumers.  Although Marant still could be seen as a ‘small’ fish, the situation ultimately becomes bigger when you take into consideration that Retailers such as Zara, Mango and Asos have versions of the Marant capes again into their ranges, still without any Mexican interference or a single dime flowing back to the indigenous communities. So now back to the print categories on the Premiere Vision menu; you can for example click on ‘exotic’, ‘folk’, ‘ikat’ and ‘indian’ and buy graphics full of native, cultural elements that have been made by random designers who treat these elements as part of a category rather than cultural heritage. 

This has to change; if designers or brands want to use elements from other culture’s  heritage they should find ways of collaborating with local artists and crafts people. This will not only result in a more authentic and thought thru product, but it will also divide the cash which is going to be earned with these products in a more equal and hence more ethical way. 

Read the 2020 story by Maria Hunt on Dwell magazine about Pendleton; a company that was founded by white settlers using Native American blankets and details as an inspiration for six generations long without a dime flowing back into Native American communities. Under pressure by the next generation, activist groups and after a settlement in 2013 on the Sioux Star Blanket Pendleton now collaborates with Native American Artists fund raises for Native American causes. If consumers don’t think that that is good enough they can check out Eight Generation, a Native American online shop started by and selling blankets and other categories made by the 8th Generation Native Americans making sure that every Euro spend ends up in the Native American community..

sources; Diet Prada Italian fashion brand Marni launches Jungle mood campaign, racist and colonial Fashion United;Mexico bekritiseert Isabel Marant voor het gebruik van inheemse ontwerpen Dwell Magazine/Maria C Hunt; The Pendleton Problem